On Oct. 17, a barred owl code-named 2022-0560 was released into the wild in DeLand after three weeks in rehabilitation.
The owl had been rescued Sept. 26 by a law-enforcement officer and sent to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, after he was likely hit by a car at the intersection of State Road 44 and Kepler Road.
Since the bird was rescued at the busy intersection near Lake Winnemissett, Audubon Center volunteer Cameron Couvillon — toting the barred owl in a cardboard animal taxi — found a quiet, wooded area nearby on Lake Winnemissett Drive to release the owl around 7 p.m. that rainy Monday night.
This reporter was warned not to stand right in front of the bird’s animal taxi when it opened, in the event that 0560 flew straight out. However, when Couvillon opened the box, the bird rested for a few moments — long enough for observers to snap a few photos — and examined its surroundings before it spread its wings and flew into the trees.
Couvillon had to tip the box a bit to encourage the previously injured bird to take flight.
The barred owl is just one of around 700 birds from across Florida that are admitted to the Raptor Trauma Clinic every year. The barred owl’s name means it was the 560th bird brought to the center in 2022.
Of that 700, some 30 to 50 come annually from Volusia County. So far in 2022, the center’s total number of birds is down some, but, with more than two full months remaining this year, the clinic has already taken in around 50 birds from Volusia County.
As its name suggests, the Audubon Center in Maitland specializes in birds of prey like owls, falcons, eagles and hawks. These birds can be dangerous, and they require lots of space, so the team is composed of volunteers and staff members who have plenty of experience taking care of them. There is also plenty of room at the center at 1101 Audubon Way in Maitland for birds to relearn how to fly in a safe place.
It also means the center can take in birds from all over the state, from Jacksonville to Miami.
“There are a lot of rehabbers in the area, but a lot of them specialize in general wildlife or mammals,” Couvillon said.
Birds that end up at the Audubon Center come for a variety of reasons.
“A lot of birds we get are just babies who fell out of the nest, or their nest was destroyed,” Couvillon told The Beacon. “We’ll get a lot of man-made causes of injuries — birds get hit by cars or they run into a building. Those are pretty common.”
BEACON VIDEO/NOAH HERTZ
The owl is a blue as it takes off into the woods near Lake Winnemissett in DeLand.
Couvillon, who lives in DeBary, has helped out at the center as an intern, volunteer and staff member for around a year-and-a-half. In that time, he’s seen less-common injuries, too, like an osprey whose feathers had been singed by a methane fire. While most birds who are released back into the wild stay, on average, around a month at the center, that osprey has to stay for at least a year so he can molt and regrow his damaged feathers.
In barred owl 2022-0560’s case, clinicians gave him some time and flight practice to ensure his head trauma hadn’t caused irreparable damage to his ability to function in the wild. They also made sure he could still hunt.
“Whenever they have head trauma or an eye issue,” Couvillon explained, “we’ll live-prey test them, where we put live mice out there and see if they can still hunt.”
Some birds aren’t so lucky as to be able to return to the wild. For example, birds that are rescued as babies and imprint on humans may become permanent residents of either the Center for Birds of Prey or another educational location.
The Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland has about 40 avian residents, many of whom visitors can meet on the center’s walking trail. Around 10 of those birds are glove-trained, too, Couvillon said, and serve as “bird ambassadors” on educational trips to places like schools.
The center isn’t like a veterinarian’s office, though. Rehabilitated birds aren’t delivered back to human families. They’re released into their natural habitats so they can go back to being wild animals.
“Just seeing a lot of the reasons the birds come in, and knowing a lot of it is from man-made issues —the fact we’re mitigating some of that is cool,” Couvillon said. “It gives the work I do a purpose.”
And while it can be hard not to get attached to the birds, Couvillon said, it’s easy to remember that, at the end of the day, you’re working with wild animals.
“I have a healthy respect for them and their many talons,” he said.
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, at 1101 Audubon Way in Maitland, offers public education and tours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.